Yesterday, an advert for a imaginary hair product popped up all around the internet, supposedly suggesting that AMD was selling hair products (?). tressFX, with the tagline “Render, Rinse, Repeat” was getting a few tongues wagging in mere hours, with many forumites and bloggers trying to figure out what was going on here. Was AMD branching out, or were they planning something to do with realistic hair effects? The answer was revealed early this morning.
If you think of hair in games, its traditionally not done very well. How many female protagonists in games have good hair, or even wavy hair? We have dozens of female leads with short hair, but very few with hair that’s wavy or interacts with other elements in games, like wind and water. Now though, AMD seems to have come up with something that should solve that issue. It even seems like this is a stab at Nvidia’s proprietary Physx engine as this is going to be exclusively possible on AMD Radeon GPUs that are based on the new Graphics Core Next architecture, as well as any GPU capable of processing DirectCompute code, although I’m assuming some kind of optimisation will allow it to run better on a Radeon card. And what better female lead to test this out on than the poster girl of adventure titles, Lara Croft?
Its a detail that most consider minor in games, honestly. First-person shooters? You can’t see your feet. Or your face, beautiful or ugly it may be. Third-person games? You can pretty much see everything that’s going on and it adds to the realism and suspense of disbelief if it things look and act more real. Lara’s hair hasn’t been a sticking point for me personally, as I first started playing Tomb Raider back when her breasts were triangles and her hair was a blob of brown. The new Tomb Raider gives developers, writers and gamers a new Lara and a glimpse into the kind of horrors someone would have to endure to be as thick-skinned as she. She’s beautiful to look at, but inside she’s haunted and psychologically scarred. The perfect heroine then, who needs to look the part.
The pics above are a small nod at how the Compute-accelerated physics calculations change things, but this is a small step for AMD into what could eventually turn into a dominant role in the computer industry. AMD’s blog on the subject pretty much asserts that tressFX is possible with other GPUs, but that it will run well on GCN. With the Wii, Wii U, PS4 and soon the Xbox 720/Infinity/8 all using AMD graphics cards and processors, AMD’s in a particularly good position to leverage some software optimisation and features similar to Nvidia’s Physx that runs only on their hardware. Or at the very least, runs the best on their hardware, with merely acceptable performance on other platforms. I mean, you can run Physx without a Nvidia card, it just brings your system to its knees if you try to.
In the end, its a small change for Lara, but a big change for gamers who appreciate visual fidelity in games. The technology behind tressFX is impressive, individually rendering and calculating positions of each strand on Lara’s head and making sure things don’t go awry. Environmental effects like wind and water will change the way her hair reacts and moves and I’m amazed that this hasn’t yet been explored in games. Lara’s hair looks fabulous and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for gamers in the next year as AMD pulls more strings to make things go their way. In the end, we win with g00d-looking games and great playability.
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